A Confrontation!

 

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‘For the Sake of my Grandchildren’, Photograph by me, Climate Strike, Edinburgh, 2019.

We march and gather to demand a change; a change in mindset and policies to save our planet for future generations!

The rhythmic chant of ‘HeyHo, Climate Change has got to go!’ verberated feverishly around me as I scurried through the crowd – my camera knocking against my side. The march, having started as a small gathering outside the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, now spilled down the Royal Mile – a stream of bodies marching towards Parliament, running over the cobble stones with splashes of vibrantly handmade placards enthusiastically thrust into the air.

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‘Lazy & Wasteful’, Photograph by me, Climate Strike, Edinburgh, 2019.

Within the environment of contemporary protests, art and politics seem to naturally go hand in hand – as one furls into the iconic peace sign and the other thrusts a paradoxically humorous, yet poignantly crafted political slogan into the air.

Art, when placed within the context of politics, has been characterised by its alarmingly malleable ability to be implemented as both a tool for one’s success and one’s demise. The fragile pendulum-esque balance of the nature of art as friend or foe, may lie simply in a few brushstrokes. From the carefully crafted allegorical compositions of 17thc. History Paintings; which hang on the walls of prestigious galleries, to the scrawling slogans held in the hands of students, art is shouting to be heard.

However, sometimes this confrontation can be in the simple act of planting a few seeds – and in this instance I’m not referring to the metaphorical kind…

‘The Queen of Land Art’ – The New York Times

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Agnes Denes, ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, Battery Park Landfill With World Trade Centre, 1982.

Agnes Denes is an artist who is often overlooked in the field of Art History, having been drowned out by the machismo of 1980s Neo-Expressionism. However, the world is finally catching up to her! With the newfound – and about time really – media frenzy surrounding the topic of Climate Change, we are finally confronting and questioning our own societal values in regard to the environment.

In 1982 a two-acre wheatfield appeared in lower Manhattan, only two blocks away from Wall Street and the World Trade Centre. The wheat field had been hand sown and grown in a landfill; which would later become known as Battery Park City, by a woman called Agnes Denes. Yet, by the end of August the field was gone. 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat had been harvested, and the field’s existence can now only be proven through a few photographs.

However, the ephemeral nature of Agnes Denes’ ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, is obsolete in comparison to the knockoff effect it had on humanitarian activity and other land art projects within the contemporary art world.

Why Plant a Wheatfield?

‘I wanted to do something that was meaningful’ – Agnes Denes

The conscious placement of ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, in lower Manhattan with the World Trade Centre looming above it, was strategically made. The land itself which the wheatfield was grown on was worth $4.5 billion. Successively, the juxtaposing image of the golden field enclosed within the cool tones of the concrete jungle, created a powerful paradox. Agnes Denes draws our attention to the iconoclastic standoff between both past and present,  as both promise mutual destruction if one fails to recognise the other.

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Agnes Denes, ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, Battery Park Landfill, Aerial View, 1982.

In New York, real estate is power. Every year, and without fail, every concrete cubic space that is stacked one on top of the other to create that iconic New York skyline, lifts in price. Therefore, through the simple act of detaching this 2-acre plot from the concrete jungle and choosing to turn it to gold instead of grey, Denes is able to confront and question our own societal values. Through the act of using her 2-acre space as a utopian bubble of functionality, which relies on patience and nature – juxtaposed by the World Trade Centre which relies on the rapid technological frenzy of the Globalised world – Denes is forcing us to question our societal priorities. ‘Wheat field: A Confrontation’ is a symbol of the stark contrast between our economically pastoral dependent past and our technocratic present.

The Wheatfield comes to symbolise the global concerns of Food, Energy, Commerce, World Trade and Economics, as it CONFRONTS the Mismanagement, Waste, World Hunger and Ecological concerns of our capitalist world – which in turn the World Trade Centre represents.

The Harvest

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Agnes Denes, ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, 1982.

As I previously mentioned in August 1982 the Wheatfield disappeared… Agnes Denes had chosen to harvest the grain she had grown, and sent this grain around the world in her exhibition, ‘The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger’. At this show visitors could take a seed and plant it in order to start their own wheatfields – taking their first steps in the direction of their own sustainable living.

Personally, I think the notion of ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, and the travelling exhibition which followed it is truly beautiful. Agnes Denes was a pioneering woman who stood alone, in a wheatfield, confronting all those who said ‘you can’t’ with the simple act of planting a seed – and the ideas which have grown from her project have been immense!

A Few Works Influenced by / stemmed directly from ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’ :

  1. Urban Farming – Agnes Denes was a pioneer of this and 30 years ahead of her time
  2. ‘Tree Mountain’ – Agnes Denes built a mountain in Finland and planted 11,000 trees on it
  3. ‘The Living Pyramid’ – A grassy ziggurat in the Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens
  4. ‘A Forest for New York’ – A project that is currently in process where Denes aims to plant 100,000 trees on another landfill in Queens

 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, art has the power to swing the pendulum of politics. So grab a paintbrush, a camera, a musical instrument, or maybe just your gardening trowel and remember…

 ‘creativity and innovation is the answer in a troubled world to swing the pendulum. Be creative. Never stop. Creativity is hope’ – Agnes Denes

 

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‘No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference’, Photograph taken by me, Climate Strike, Edinburgh, 2019.

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